Venice: 'Everest' Stars, Director Talk Isolation, Responsibility of Filming Real-Life Mountain Saga

Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

“There’s a difference between pain and injury,” director Baltasar Kormakur said at a press conference ahead of the movie's world premiere.

The 72nd Venice International Film Festival opens Wednesday with Universal’s 3D disaster epic Everest, directed by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur. The true-life story follows two crews of climbers fighting for their lives during the 1996 blizzard that resulted in eight deaths. The A-list cast, who had to carry their own gear up Mt. Everest during the shoot, includes Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake GyllenhaalSam WorthingtonJohn Hawkes and Michael KellyEmily Watson plays base camp coordinator Helen Wilton. And Keira Knightley and Robin Wright star as two of the climbers' loved ones on the ground.

For the filmmaker, filming on the mountain was crucial to the production, which also shot on location at the Italian Dolomites and in studios in Rome and London. “I brought the Icelandic weather with me. I trained for this film every day when I went to school, basically just always in a blizzard as a kid,” said Kormakur of his preparation for the film. “Except add 29,000 feet to that.”

“It would have been impossible to have made the film not going there. It is a story of going there and coming home,” said Clarke.

While Kormakur acknowledged the difficulties of shooting at such high altitudes, he said of the cast, “There’s a difference between pain and injury. I put them through a lot of pain, but no injury.”

“I wanted to make it as intimate as an independent film, but on the level of a blockbuster,” he said. “The acting was very subdued, not flamboyant at all.”

When asked if the actors would climb Everest, Brolin answered emphatically, “Yes.”

“We didn’t know what Balt was getting us into. A lot of directors say we want to pit you against nature and most of them aren’t telling the truth and you get up there and you have a trailer and it’s warm and everything is pretty cush,” said Brolin. “And we are simulating this movie. We’re not actually climbing Everest. But we’re trying to simulate as much fear as possible.”

“What it did create was a lot of camaraderie,” continued Brolin. “We had to live the dramas everyday of each other’s personalities. Sometimes Jake and I wouldn’t want to be around each other. Because it was an isolated experience.”

But when the crew shifted to a studio, Brolin said everyone grew frustrated after having grown so close together.  

“We weren’t in the mountains with nobody else, having to deal with each other day in and day out and we really missed it," he said. "We all kind of wanted to be done with it and we wanted to go back to Los Angeles. That’s when it got very real and that’s where I think the film gets very good because you can feel it in the film. So I think Balt created a manipulation where it’s a visceral reaction and not just a spectacle.”

The actors also spoke about what it was like to play real-life climbers. “I think there’s a tremendous responsibility when you’re trying to recreate something that actually happened,” said Gyllenhaal who met with the children of his character Scott Fischer. “His children were worried about how their father would be portrayed."

"It was beautiful to sit down with them to hear how their father was to them, and to feel him through them. It ended up being my responsibility to find the aspect of him, an energy, to put that through the character, not the specifics or idiosyncrasies," he continued. "That was what Balt always talked about, was the essence of that expedition, and the details would be our own.”

“I was very interested by the character of Helen because she came from a very different place,” said Watson on playing Wilton, who was also present at the press conference. “I loved the idea of playing a witness and a bystander, an emotional conduit in a way. She’s a person of great natural warmth and that was just a really lovely place to be.”